Barry Monteith was still breathing when Harry found him.
His throat had been ripped out.
Tee Tucker, a corgi, racing ahead of Mary Minor Haristeen as well as the two cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, found him first.
Barry was on his back, eyes open, gasping and gurgling, life ebbing with each spasm. He did not recognize Tucker nor Harry when they reached him.
"Barry, Barry." Harry tried to comfort him, hoping he could hear her. "It will be all right," she said, knowing perfectly well he was dying.
The tiger cat, Mrs. Murphy, watched the blood jet upward.
"Jugular," fat, gray Pewter succinctly commented.
Gently, Harry took the young man's hand and prayed, "Dear Lord, receive into thy bosom the soul of Barry Monteith, a good man." Tears welled in her eyes.
Barry jerked, then his suffering ended.
Death, often so shocking to city dwellers, was part of life here in the country. A hawk would swoop down to carry away the chick while the biddy screamed useless defiance. A bull would break his hip and need to be put down. And one day an old farmer would slowly walk to his tractor only to discover he couldn't climb into the seat. The Angel of Death placed his hand on the stooping shoulder.
It appeared the Angel had offered little peaceful deliverance to Barry Monteith, thirty-four, fit, handsome with brown curly hair, and fun-loving. Barry had started his own business, breeding thoroughbreds, a year ago, with a business partner, Sugar Thierry.
"Sweet Jesus." Harry wiped away the tears.
That Saturday morning, crisp, clear, and beautiful, had held the alluring promise of a perfect May 29. The promise had just curdled.
Harry had finished her early-morning chores and, despite a list of projects, decided to take a walk for an hour. She followed Potlicker Creek to see if the beavers had built any new dams. Barry was sprawled at the creek's edge on a dirt road two miles from her farm that wound up over the mountains into adjoining Augusta County. It edged the vast land holdings of Tally Urquhart, who, well into her nineties and spry, loathed traffic. Three cars constituted traffic in her mind. The only time the road saw much use was during deerhunting season in the fall.
"Tucker, Mrs. Murphy, and Pewter, stay. I'm going to run to Tally's and phone the sheriff."
If Harry hit a steady lope, crossed the fields and one set of woods, she figured she could reach the phone in Tally's stable within fifteen minutes, though the pitch and roll of the land including one steep ravine would cost time.
As she left her animals, they inspected Barry.
"What could rip his throat like that? A bear swipe?" Pewter's pupils widened.
"Perhaps." Mrs. Murphy, noncommittal, sniffed the gaping wound, as did Tucker.
The cat curled her upper lip to waft more scent into her nostrils.
The dog, whose nose was much longer and nostrils larger, simply inhaled.
"I don't smell bear," Tucker declared. "That's an overpowering scent, and on a morning like this it would stick."
Pewter, who cherished luxury and beauty, found that Barry's corpse disturbed her equilibrium. "Let's be grateful we found him today and not three days from now."
"Stop jabbering, Pewter, and look around, will you? Look for tracks."
Grumbling, the gray cat daintily stepped down the dirt road. "You mean like car tracks?"
"Yes, or animal tracks," Mrs. Murphy directed, then returned her attention to Tucker. "Even though coyote scent isn't as strong as bear, we'd still smell a whiff. Bobcat? I don't smell anything like that. Or dog. There are wild dogs and wild pigs back in the mountains. The humans don't even realize they're there."
Tucker cocked her perfectly shaped head. "No dirt around the wound.
No saliva, either."
"I don't see anything. Not even a birdie foot," Pewter, irritated, called out from a hundred yards down the road.
"Well, go across the creek then and look over there." Mrs. Murphy's patience wore thin.
"And get my paws wet?" Pewter's voice rose.
"It's a ford. Hop from rock to rock. Go on, Pewt, stop being a chicken."
Angrily, Pewter puffed up, tearing past them to launch herself over the ford. She almost made it, but a splash indicated she'd gotten her hind paws wet.
If circumstances had been different, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker would have laughed. Instead, they returned to Barry.
"I can't identify the animal that tore him up." The tiger shook her head.
"Well, the wound is jagged but clean. Like I said, no dirt." Tucker studied the folds of flesh laid back.
"He was killed lying down," the cat sagely noted. "If he was standing up, don't you think blood would be everywhere?"
"Not necessarily," the dog replied, thinking how strong heartbeats sent blood straight out from the jugular. Tucker was puzzled by the odd calmness of the scene.
"Pewter, have you found anything on that side?"
"Deer tracks. Big deer tracks."
"Keep looking," Mrs. Murphy requested.
"I hate it when you're bossy." Nonetheless, Pewter moved down the dirt road heading west.
"Barry was such a nice man." Tucker mournfully looked at the square-jawed face, wide-open eyes staring at heaven.
Mrs. Murphy circled the body. "Tucker, I'm climbing up that sycamore. If
I look down maybe I'll see something."
Her claws, razor sharp, dug into the thin surface of the tree, strips of darker outer bark peeling, exposing the whitish underbark. The odor of fresh water, of the tufted titmouse above her, all informed her. She scanned around for broken limbs, bent bushes, anything indicating Barry—other humans or large animals—had traveled to this spot avoiding the dirt road.
"Big fat nothing." The gray kitty noted that her hind paws were wet. She was getting little clods of dirt stuck between her toes. This bothered her more than Barry did. After all, he was dead. Nothing she could do for him. But the hardening brown earth between her toes, that was discomfiting.
"Well, come on back. We'll wait for Mom." Mrs. Murphy dropped her hind legs over the limb where she was sitting. Her hind paws reached for the trunk, the claws dug in, and she released her grip, swinging her front paws to the trunk. She backed down.
Tucker touched noses with Pewter, who had re-crossed the creek more successfully this time.
Mrs. Murphy came up and sat beside them.
"Hope his face doesn't change colors while we're waiting for the humans. I hate that. They get all mottled." Pewter wrinkled her nose.
"I wouldn't worry." Tucker sighed.
In the distance they heard sirens.
"Bet they won't know what to make of this, either," Tucker said.
"It's peculiar." Mrs. Murphy turned her head in the direction of the sirens.
"Weird and creepy." Pewter pronounced judgment as she picked at her hind toes, and she was right.
Crozet was the last stop on the railroad before the locomotive disappeared into the first of the four tunnels Claudius Crozet had dug through the Blue Ridge Mountains. This feat, accomplished before dynamite, was considered one of the seven engineering wonders of the world in the mid–nineteenth century. At the beginning of the twenty-first century they were still wonders as two remained in use; the other two were closed but not filled in.
On the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains reposed the fertile and long Shenandoah Valley, running from Winchester,Virginia, by the West Virginia line all the way to North Carolina. The Allegheny Mountains bordered the huge valley to the west.
But on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains the land, although not as fertile, could be quite good in patches.
Harry's tidy farm rested on one of those patches. Although lacking the thousands of acres of Tally Urquhart, she owned four hundred acres, give or take, plus she had kept her tobacco allotments current, allotments secured by her late father shortly after World War II. Still, like many a Southerner and especially a Virginian, Harry was land poor: good land, little cash.
Deputy Cynthia Cooper drove down the long drive with Harry in the front seat, her animals in the back of the squad car, stones crunching underneath her tires.
"House or barn?"
"House. Did my barn chores. Want coffee or tea?"
"Love coffee." Cooper stopped, cut the motor as Harry opened the car doors for Mrs. Murphy, Pewter, and Tucker. The animals raced ahead, ducking through the animal door on the side of the screened door and then through the second animal door in the kitchen door.
Harry and Cooper followed them.
"Ten-thirty. I hadn't paid attention to the time." She ground coffee beans in the electric grinder as she put up water for tea. Harry loved the smell of coffee but couldn't drink it, as it made her too jumpy. "There's corn bread in the fridge. Miranda made a mess of it yesterday."
Miranda Hogendobber, a lady in her sixties, worked with Harry at the tiny Crozet Post Office, where Harry was postmistress.
The light inside the refrigerator illuminated Cooper's badge. She pulled out the corn bread and some sweet butter.
Harry nodded. "Church of the Holy Light."
Last fall the applesauce had been cooked up to perfection by the ladies of the small church to which Miranda belonged. Harry attended St. Luke's Lutheran Church, where her friend the Reverend Herbert Jones was the pastor. She sat on the Parish Guild, impressing other, older members with her organizational skills.
"Here." Harry refilled the cats' dried-food bowl, then reached into a large stoneware cookie jar to give Tucker a smoked pig's ear.
"Thank you." The corgi solemnly took the tasty ear, remaining in the kitchen to chew it because she didn't want to miss anything.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"It's not every day you find a dead man."
"Dying. He was dying when we reached him. Yeah, I'm okay. I feel terrible for him, but I'm okay."
"Gurgling." Pewter added the vivid detail.
"Right." Cooper opened a drawer, grabbed two blue and yellow linen napkins, placing them by the plates. A country person herself, Cooper understood that country people lived much closer to life and death than most urban or suburban people.
"It was good of Rick to allow you to take me home. I could have walked."
Rick Shaw was sheriff of Albemarle County, an elected position and one growing ever more difficult as more wealthy people moved to this most beautiful place. Wealthy people tend to be very demanding. He was understaffed, underappreciated, and underpaid, but he loved law enforcement and did the best with what he had.
"Rick's more flexible than people realize," Cooper replied. "Once he'd inspected the corpse, questioned you, no reason to keep you. Another thing about Rick, he doesn't miss much," she said. "I hope the autopsy will reveal something. No sign of struggle. No sign that he dragged himself there." Cooper's blond eyebrows pointed upward as her mind turned over events.
"And no scent." Tucker spoke with her mouth full.
"So handsome." Cooper sighed as she sat down while Harry served her a big mug of coffee, then took a striped creamer from the fridge and poured some of the rich eggshell-colored Devon cream into Cooper's coffee.
"Every now and then a girl has to treat herself to the best." Harry put the creamer on the checkered tablecloth as she sat down.
"Enemies—Barry?" Cooper knew Harry would know.
"He used to run with a wild crowd, but when he and Sugar started the business over at St. James Farm he sobered up."
"Sex, drugs, and rock and roll." Cooper reached for more corn bread.
"He was so good-looking and easygoing that he got away with a lot. Course, when his father wrapped his Nissan truck around a tree and died, that started to sober up Barry. He hasn't any family left. When he started the breeding operation he really cleaned up his act."
"I recall he left a trail of broken hearts." Cooper sipped her delicious coffee. "The last one was, uh . . ."
"Carmen Gamble. She was mad enough to kill him six months ago."
"But not strong enough to bite his throat out," Cooper added. "For all we know a mad dog bit his throat."
"Boy, what a way to go." Cooper thoughtfully paused a moment.
"If I came up on Susan breathing her last, I'd—" Harry paused. "I think I'd never be the same."
Susan Tucker was Harry's best friend, married to a successful lawyer. They had one son at Cornell and a daughter in high school.
"Makes you wonder about war. Fifty-one thousand dead at Gettysburg. People get used to it. Or the siege of St. Petersburg, Leningrad. You just get used to it."
"I don't know if I could ever get used to the smell."
"Yeah, that's worse than the sight, for sure. Helps if you don't breathe through your nose."
"Certainly makes you understand why soldiers smoke—kills the odor a little bit and soothes your nerves." Harry noticed a flaming red cardinal swoop by the kitchen window, heading for the large bird feeder hanging in the old tree by the kitchen.
"That's another thing: Humans will drink, take drugs, anything to feel better. If you knew how many little drug busts we do . . . I mean, they aren't exactly selling kilos of marijuana, but the law states it's a crime and so I bust these guys. I can't keep up with it and it doesn't work, but it sure has made me think about why so many people do stuff."
"Cooper, that's easy. It feels good. Their body chemistry is a little different from yours and mine. Booze makes me sick. But for someone else, it's heaven—temporarily."
"Well, I'm thinking about drugs and alcohol in a new way. You and I know we're going to die. Humans carry around all this anxiety that stems from that original anxiety: the knowledge of death. Hence drugs and drink. You don't see Mrs. Murphy lapping up rum."
"Tastes awful. But give me some catnip." Mrs. Murphy's green eyes brightened.
"I never thought about that. Coop, you're a philosopher."
"No, just a cop." She finished her third piece of corn bread. "I'm surprised you haven't called Susan or Miranda or Fair." Fair was Harry's ex-husband, who remained a dear friend. In fact, she was thinking how much a part of her life he was and, hopefully, would always be.
"Thought I'd wait until you left. Is anything off-limits?"
"No. We don't even know enough to hold back evidence." Cooper winked. "Not that Rick would ever do such a thing."
"Right." Harry smiled. "How's he doing? I haven't seen him for a while except for today."
"He's been down at the courthouse engaged in the battle of the budget."
"No wonder I haven't seen him. Hey, to change the subject, have you heard anything about the new post office being built?"
"No more than you have. The population increase even out here in Crozet warrants a larger building."
"One of the gang called from Barracks Post Office and said a survey crew was coming out Monday. Miranda doesn't know anything about it, either. You'd think Pug Harper," Harry said, referring to the county postmaster, "would come down and talk to us."
"He will. Everyone's on overload. We're supposed to be in a recession, right? That's when businesses fire people and government won't hire. So everyone is doing his job and the job of the guy who got fired—or I should say let go."
"If they do build a bigger post office, the postal service has to hire new employees. Miranda and I can't handle it. We're struggling now. Every day, it seems, a new person comes through the door and needs a postbox or stamps or information. The only reason we get the mail in the boxes by nine every morning is that we're there by seven-thirty and so is Rob Collier." She mentioned the driver who dropped off mailbags from the main post office.
"Changes things, new people. Every time a new person comes on the job the composition of the team changes. Not necessarily bad or good. Just different."
"Hey, I'm the postmistress of Greater Crozet, so they do it my way." Harry smiled wryly.
"Do you want to manage people?"
This stopped Harry for a minute. "No."
"I thought so."
"What are you saying?"
"Change is gonna come."
"That's profound," Harry teased.
"Can you change?"
"I don't know. It depends. If there's a new and better bushog for my tractor, I'm happy to change. But if I personally have to change, I'd like to do it at my own speed. I suppose that's true of everybody."
"We all have different speeds. I find that I'm more innovative than Rick, but once he sees the benefit of a change, whether it's in technology or personnel, he accepts it."
"Is this a roundabout way of telling me you don't think I'm going to like the changes at work?"
"How do I know?"
Harry leaned back in her chair, tapping the side of her plate with her knife. "Actually, Cooper, I don't think I am going to like it. Miranda and I have a good system where we are; we can read each other's mind. It's so easy and, besides, we have such a good time together. The only fly in the ointment is, the volume of mail is increasing."
"Oh, I forgot to ask you. Back to Barry. Rick may have asked you this when I was back with the ambulance crew. Do you think he was conscious?"
"His eyes were open but, no, he was leaving life quickly. But I remember once someone telling me—maybe it was you or maybe it was Dr. Mary O'Brien—that hearing is the last sense to go, so I held his hand and told him everything would be all right. Maybe where he is now, it is."
After Sunday services, Harry slipped back to Herb's office. He was just removing his surplice, a rich green color embroidered with gold, signifying the season of Trinity in the ecclesiastical calendar.
"Rev." She often called him this.
"What can I do for you, honey? Here, sit down." He motioned to the Chesterfield sofa, and the long sleeve on his black robe, a design unchanged since the Middle Ages, swept with the motion.
"Thanks." She sank into the old, comfortable leather.
"Heard you had an upsetting day yesterday." He unzipped his robe from the front, exposing a Hawaiian shirt underneath.
"I can't believe you gave the sermon in a Hawaiian shirt." Harry's brown eyes widened.
"Ned Tucker dared me to do it. Said I could use his new fly rod if I did. I'll collect after lunch." He hung his robe on a padded hanger, placing it in the closet. "But don't tell, now. It will offend some of"—he paused and winked—"the faithful." He sat opposite her. "Now tell me what's on your mind."
She launched right in. She'd known Herb all her life. He'd baptized her, confirmed her, and married her as well as consoled her during and after her divorce.
". . . not as tough as I thought."
"Oh, you're tough, all right." His deep voice filled the room.
"When bad things occur, our minds are focused on what needs to be done. Afterward the emotions flow. Think of when old Mrs. Urquhart died." He mentioned Mim Sanburne's mother,Tally Urquhart's sister. "Mim bore up all through the illness, and that poor woman suffered. And even after the burial, Mim seemed fine, and then three months later she burst into tears at the stable and sobbed for a whole day. Scared Jim to death." Jim was Mim's husband and the mayor of Crozet.
"The mind protects itself. Some people are never strong enough to face emotions.They tuck them further and further in the recesses of their mind, and one day they freeze up. Prayer is a way to thaw out those frozen fears and pains. You thaw them out and the Good Lord gives you the strength to deal with them and the wit to be thankful. You don't grow up, Harry, until you thank God for your troubles as well as your joys."
"Mother used to say that."
"I know." He smiled broadly, for he highly regarded Harry's deceased mother.
Harry was like her mother in that she was well-organized and friendly, but she was more taciturn, more skeptical, more like her father in that respect.
"I feel terrible. I feel terrible for Barry."
Cazenovia and Elocution, Herb's two cats, had been lounging in the window, cruising the squadrons of robins on the verdant quad lawn. Hearing Harry's distress, they left their sightseeing to jump in her lap. She rubbed their ears.
"In the prime of life. I hear it was some sort of animal attack."
"I guess, but apart from his throat—not a mark on him. I could have missed something. I didn't examine him once he died. I just ran like hell for the phone in Tally's barn. Sorry to swear, Herb."
"You're upset." Herb waved away the apology. He, himself, could make the air blue on certain occasions.
"I am." Harry exhaled.
"Tally said she heard there were no animal tracks by the body—other than Mrs. Murphy, Pewter, and Tucker's paw prints."
"No tracks of him crawling, either," Harry said.
"And his feet weren't wet?" Herb inquired.
"Hmm." The older man rubbed his clean-shaven chin.
Herb, a very masculine man now in his early sixties with a rumbling bass voice, had been athletic and handsome in his youth, but over the years he'd allowed the pounds to accumulate until now he was portly. His and Harry's dear friend Miranda Hogendobber had also picked up tonnage over the years, but she'd gone on a sensible diet and in one year's time had lost thirty pounds. She was now the same size she'd been in high school and looked years younger in the bargain. But, then, Miranda had been inspired by the reappearance of her high-school sweetheart, Tracy Raz, all-state halfback during his years at Crozet High. Herb, on the other hand, had lost his wife and hadn't found anyone else, so he'd let himself go a bit.
"You'd think there'd be tracks from a heavy animal."
"Now, Mary Minor, I hear that tone in your voice. Hold your horses." He held up his hand to stop. "You let our esteemed sheriff and his deputy take care of this, and I bet when the autopsy report comes in this will all be explained. You are cool in a crisis, but under the circumstances you probably did miss things. I know I would, and you did the right thing running for the phone. You couldn't have done him any good by staying there or by searching the area. Rick did that once he got there."
"Now that I think about it, I should have recited the Last Rites. Maybe it would have eased him. In extremis, laymen can give the Last Rites, can't we?"
Herb nodded yes. "You did all you could and you did the right thing. You usually do. Your downfall—well, downfall is too strong a word—your weak spot is curiosity. You're like Cazenovia and Elocution, just as curious as a cat and you can't stand not knowing something. Hepworth." He named her maternal family line, all of whom were known for their curiosity and bright minds.
"I'm glad I called on you." She smiled. "I guess I'm keeping you from borrowing that rod. It must be special."
"Special. You should see the reel. Ned paid over a thousand dollars for it." His forefinger flew to his lips. "Don't tell Susan. I mean how much it cost."
"She'll find out when she pays the bills."
"No, she won't. He paid cash. He's been squirreling away money. And you know she wants to paint the inside of the house. No point in rocking the boat. She's taking his run for the state senate in good stride."
"Been a tepid campaign."
"It will be until September, then the Democratic primary will heat up. Ned's campaigning hard on expanding the reservoir, environmental responsibility, and building the bypass, which would seem to be a contradiction but I've seen the plans he's got about the bypass. It's one of the alternative ones. I can't remember the number."
"This place has been fighting that bypass since I was in grade school."
"Well, sugarpie, it's got to happen. The question is: where?"
"Kind of like the new post office."
"Yes." He folded his hands together.
"I don't think I'm going to like that, any of it. The bypass or the post office."
"Tell you the truth, I don't think I'm going to like it, either. I hated it when they built I-64. Sliced in half some of the most beautiful farms in Albemarle County, and in all the counties from Tidewater to St. Louis, Missouri. More traffic. More pollution. More accidents, especially up on Afton Mountain. They can build the road straight as an arrow but they can't do squat about the fog. People ought to learn to live with nature instead of thinking they can control it. Damned fools." He stared down at his shining shoe tips for a moment, then looked up. "Now it's my turn to apologize for my language."
"I say worse."
"But you're not a pastor."
"The Very Reverend." She laughed back at him.
"Don't you forget it." He laughed back.
"Poppy,we'd like some treats," Elocution mewed.
"Either she's agreeing with you or it's a call for tuna." Harry ran her fingers along the young cat's cheek. "With my Pewter it's always tuna."
"Elo, just wait a minute. Now that you're here, Harry, I'd like to ask you something in confidence."
"Do you think the relationship between Blair Bainbridge and Little Mim Sanburne is becoming serious?"
Blair was Harry's nearest neighbor. Little Mim was the daughter of Jim and Mim Sanburne. She was also the vice-mayor of Crozet. Her father was a Democrat. Little Mim was a Republican. Table talk at Sunday dinners was never dull at the Sanburne house.
"Big Mim is coming around to it. Mim can't stand anything that isn't her idea. Jim's been working on her, wooing her, pitching to her ego. Why watch television when you can watch your friends?"
"That's why people watch television. They don't have friends."
"Harry, that's a big statement."
"Well, I mean it. If you're sitting around watching a simulation of life, you aren't living. If you've got work, friends, things you love to do, and people you love to do them with, you don't have time to watch TV. I watch the news and the Weather Channel, and half the time I don't even do that."
"You might have a point there."
"I got you off the track. I'm sorry."
"Well, here's what I'm turning over in my mind. If a marriage should result from this courtship, I can't imagine that Little Mim will move out to Blair's farm, can you?"
"I hadn't really thought about it."
"It's a lovely farm but not grand, and Little Mim, like her mother, has been raised in the grand tradition. He'll move over to Dalmally"—he named the Sanburne estate—"or Mim will buy them something close by, or, and here's what I think really will happen, they'll take over and restore Tally's estate."
Tally will cane them to death." Harry mentioned the cane Tally used for walking, an elegant ebony cane with a sleek silver hound's head for the handle. She used it to good effect to get her way as well as to find her way.
He shook his head and held up his forefinger. "You watch: Mim will send her future son-in-law to inveigle Tally, and Tally may be in her nineties but she cannot refuse a handsome man. As it is, she adores Blair, and they'll work out some deal where the newlyweds live in one of the cottages or even in the big house with Tally."
"The house is in good shape."
"And so's the farm, but she's let the outbuildings go and the back pastures. I foresee that Rose Hill will be restored to former glory and
Little Mim will inherit her great-aunt's estate."
"But what about Dalmally? When Big Mim should be bumped
Upstairs—not that I wish this to occur anytime soon—what happens?"
"First off, the Urquharts live a long time. Mim's mother died young for an Urquhart, at eighty. Mim will break one hundred, and she's not going to be moved from Dalmally any more than Tally would be moved from Rose Hill. And when that day does occur, Stafford will come home." Stafford was Mim's son, currently living in New York City. Mother and son did not get along very well.
"Oh, yes, he will."
"His wife is the highest-paid black model in America."
"She'll be in her sixties then and she'll come home with him,
I'm telling you. And never forget, Virginia was the first state to elect an African-American governor, Doug Wilder. Stafford's wife will fit right with the black folks who are making a positive difference. You mark my words."
Harry didn't want to argue with Herb, but she couldn't imagine those two leaving the high life in New York. Then again, this was decades in the future. God willing.
"Having Little Mim and Blair at Rose Hill makes sense." Harry agreed with that part of Herb's scenario.
"My old family place will be put back on the market."
Blair's farm had originally been the old Jones homestead, a designation of some importance in these parts. No one ever wanted the homeplace to wind up in the hands of others, but more often than not such places did because the originating family couldn't afford the upkeep.
"Yes." Harry's voice dropped. A new neighbor was not necessarily an appetizing prospect, most particularly since she liked the old one.
"Well, I have a thought. I believe Blair would give you good terms."
"Oh, Herb, I'd love to have the land, but I can't afford all of it."
"I'd like to have the homeplace back, and my retirement isn't too far in the future. If, and I mean if, the time comes that you and I should approach Blair, I think we could work something out. I can't farm all that land, but you can. If you can buy the lion's share of the land, I'll keep, say, maybe twenty or fifty acres, whatever, with the cemetery. You take the rest."
She had one hand on each cat, and her hands rested on them.
"That would be wonderful," she whispered."Wonderful."
"Blair likes you very much."
"And I like him."
"And I think both Big Mim and Tally would help us all structure a deal that we could live with and perhaps even thrive on." He smiled broadly. "Those women have two of the best business heads in the state of Virginia. If Tally had been a man she'd have run R. J. Reynolds or Liggett & Myers, I mean it. She was born in the wrong era. As it was she built her farm into something special and spread her risk. Tally played the stock market, too, and she taught Big Mim. As you know, Mim's mother was the society type. She didn't care about making money, only spending it."
"You know, I'm so excited by the idea that I can't breathe." Harry took a deep breath. "And I'd have a holy neighbor."
"I don't know about that." Herb laughed. "Well, let's you and me keep our ears to the ground, and don't tell Miranda or Susan. We've got to keep this just between us."
"Agreed." She petted the kitties. "Why don't I give them some goodies on the way out?"
"Hooray." The two vacated her lap and hurried toward the small kitchen.
Walking to the kitchen, Herb said, "This new carpet is the best thing. When you think of all the meetings the Parish Guild had about it—it was worth it."
"Like walking on air."
Driving back to her farm, the sunshine golden and fine, Harry wondered how she could get the money to buy that land. She'd get it somehow, if she had to work three jobs. The chance to buy land that you know doesn't come along but so often. Then she remembered describing to Herb where she'd found Barry, by the creek.
She needed to go back to the creek, but first she'd change her clothes and take along Mrs. Murphy, Pewter, and Tucker. Their senses were better than hers, and she had the good sense to know it.
Excerpted from WHISKER OF EVIL © Copyright 2004 by Rita Mae Brown. Reprinted with permission by Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.